When Family Comes Last
We tend to take our loved ones for granted. Oh yeah, mom will always check in with me. My wife won’t go away any time soon. Children are for life, even when we fight with them.
It’s comforting to know that we have a secure family network. And then there are the times when they have to pay for our moodiness. When we feel stressed and emotionally drained by other factors of life, it’s the ones closest to us who will know about it.
Our spouses especially tend to become an easy target when things don’t work so well for us. I certainly have blamed my husband for some minor lapse – like forgetting to bring something from the store — when the real cause for my upset was something outside of our relationship.
But the deeper reasons for our depression and anxiety aren’t always clear to us. Some couples persistently blame each other for not attending to each other’s needs, when the original hurt or neglect took place much earlier in life, in childhood or adolescence.
One young man in my psychotherapy practice was relentlessly teased by his siblings for a mild stutter he had as a boy. He felt ostracized and left behind, and developed a great sensitivity to how people in his life responded to him, which remained even after his stutter had disappeared.
He got married to an ambitious and very successful businesswoman. Initially, he enjoyed her success greatly and felt good about being associated with such a high-powered spouse.
But after a couple of years, when their initial dedication to each other had worn off to some extent, he started to feel excluded from her life when she went on a business trip.
Even though she spent just as much time away from home as she always had, his need to feel seen and special only increased.
They started to fight about every hour she was at the office, and he became jealous of the time she spent with her colleagues. Their arguing about her job was really rooted in his feelings of being excluded as a child, and his unresolved hurt from that time began to impact the relationship with his wife.
It can be a lot simpler than that. Sometimes we come home from a stressful day at work and scold our kids, even though it’s our job that makes us miserable.
Sometimes we need to put up boundaries. Not just to fend off the people who hurt us, put to protect the ones that are an easy target from our own aggression.
Boundaries not only create emotional distance between people, they also create the space and the possibility for mutual respect and cordiality.
When boundaries fall away, we don’t just experience our most tender feelings of love and vulnerability. It’s also when it gets ugly.
It’s when we expect that our partners and parents have to provide for all our needs and attend to every whim we come up with.
This is when we need to build a protective boundary around the space in us that tends to attack our loved ones for sins they didn’t commit. We have to take responsibility for the times we are the culprits.
Schoen, G. (2012). When Family Comes Last. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 3, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/gentle-self/2012/02/when-family-comes-last/